WA Nats leave gate wide open to gas fracking

At their recent State Conference the WA Nationals Party considered two important issues for regional WA – renewable energy and gas fracking.

While the party’s support for renewable energy is welcomed, their approach to fracking is a cause for greater concern.  The amended fracking policy adopted at the Conference talks of the need for ‘adequate’ regulation, however the Nats are seeding the wrong paddock if they think that regulations can be relied upon to protect our land and groundwater.

Bear in mind that gas fracking requires pumping chemicals into the ground at high enough pressure to fracture solid rock. The principal means of dispose of these chemicals after use is ‘re-injection’ into the ground. By definition therefore, fracking involves pollution.

Across the Canning (Kimberley), Canarvon and North Perth (Midwest) basins, the WA Government estimates that there is approximately 280 trillion cubic feet (TCF)of gas trapped in shale and tight sandstone formations that could be economically recovered by fracking.

According to independent estimates, extracting this gas could require up to 100,000 fracking wells drilled through our farmland, nature reserves, pastoral lands and groundwater aquifers.

The Government says there are ‘robust regulations’ in place to protect groundwater but how true this statement is?  After closely examining the regulations and seeking independent legal advice, CCWA has uncovered the following highly concerning information:

  • Fracking companies are required to have land access agreements, however landholders who object do not have a right of veto. There is no formal process for public consultation or appeal on fracking decisions.
  • There is at present no minimum required setback distance away from houses, schools etc. and the fracking regulations contain no specific pollution limits for soil, air or water.
  • There is no single agency responsible for groundwater quality, and no universal groundwater water quality standards applied in WA.
  • Shale and tight gas fracking in WA is exempt from Commonwealth laws that protect groundwater. The WA Department of Water may issue licenses for water use but does little to assess groundwater pollution risks.
  • Groundwater monitoring results are not disclosed to the public or landholders.
  • No fracking conducted so far in WA has been assessed or regulated by the EPA.
  • Exploration fracking is exempt from the normal pollution licensing requirements that apply to other industries. If fracking that has been approved by the Mines department causes pollution (as it surely will) the environment agency is unable to prosecute the company.

Rather than addressing these shortcomings, the Government (including the WA Nationals) are pushing through new ‘anti-protest’ laws that would make farmers into criminals for locking their gates or taking other action to protect their land and water.

Instead of undermining the democratic rights of citizens the Nationals should stand up for the rights of people in the bush

In the last year alone, we have seen five large communities in the Midwest declare their regions ‘frack-free’ with over 96% public support. These people have fracking exploration leases over their farms and communities and they know it is their groundwater and their businesses on the line.

These people also know that the inherent risks associated with gas fracking cannot be managed by any amount of regulation.

It’s time the WA Nationals adopt policies that support communities who put their water, farms and natural environment ahead of a short-term polluting fracking industry.